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Memo to the Pac-10: Les Miles Does Not Speak for the Southeastern Conference

In late May, while discussing the possibility of a Division I-A college football playoff, Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer made a fairly lengthy statement in partial support of the "plus-one" model, during which he made one silly observation:

Maybe some of the other conferences have teams like Michigan that play just two or three tough conference games a year.

Although Coach Fulmer's remark was but a single sentence---and a qualified one, at that---in a longer playoff-related observation, his comment deservedly drew both attention and criticism. For my part, I felt moved to write the following in reply:
When Coach Fulmer offered his ignorant utterance, he said something foolish and false, for which S.E.C. fans should be the first to call him out because he made us all look bad by conforming to the popular stereotype of Southern football fans as condescending detractors of teams and leagues from New England, the Midwest, and the West.

Accordingly, when it was brought to my attention that Louisiana State's Les Miles recently had made the same observation much more pointedly and at greater length, I did my best to make good on my previous commitment by writing:
Stop it. Stop that nonsense right now. If you want to say the S.E.C. is the toughest conference in college football, fine; if you want to say that, this year, the league is tougher at the top than any other, there's a pretty good case to be made for that proposition, although these things change more rapidly than one might expect.

This business about there being one or two or four good teams in other B.C.S. conferences, though, is just dumb.

With regard to Coach Miles's specific criticism of the Pac-10, I offered this response:
To use the most commonly-maligned example of the conferences Coach Miles cited, the Pac-10 is often disparaged as a one-team league . . . "Southern California and the nine dwarves." Similar animadversions were hurled at the S.E.C. during Florida's run of dominance under Steve Spurrier and they held no more water then than they do now.

Does the Pac-10 contain more than one or two good teams? From 2000 to 2006, six different teams won or shared the Pac-10 title in a seven-year span. Eight squads from the Pacific Coast conference have won at least part of a league crown in the last decade and all 10 teams in the West Coast B.C.S. league have captured a conference title in the last 14 seasons.

Meanwhile, six of the last seven Southeastern Conference championships have been won by the league's three dominant teams: Georgia (2002 and 2005), Florida (2000 and 2006), and L.S.U. (2001 and 2003). Nine consecutive S.E.C. championship games have been decided by double-digit margins and half of the league's member institutions have not won a conference title more recently than George Bush's first year in the White House . . . the first George Bush, that is.

In saying so, I don't believe I did anything particularly noteworthy, and certainly not anything unique. Indeed, the consensus seems to be that Les Miles is a big honkin' dufus. Nevertheless, I fear that my SportsBlogs Nation colleague Dave of Addicted to Quack painted with much too broad a brush when he wrote (accompanied by a mild adult language advisory):
We all know that there has been somewhat of a rivalry between the SEC and the Pac-10 developing in recent years. You see, all the rednecks down south, who believe that football supremacy is a [G]od-given right, don't want to believe that the laid back, full o' hippies, pot smokin west can play football, too. They'd have you believe that downtrodden Stanford is the textbook textbook [sic.] Pac-10 program, while conveniently forgetting such SEC stalwarts as Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. The SEC is king of college football, and the West Coast boys best get out of town 'fore they be lynched.

At the forefront of this rivalry, and some may argue the reason for its being, is the mythical rivalry between USC and LSU. As you remember, back in '03, SC and LSU shared the national title, as #1 USC was somehow shut out of the great BCS, and LSU beat Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. Now, you'd think LSU would be happy that they got half the title, seeing as they would surely have had their ass beat down if they would have played SC. Or, if they were angry, sure it would be at Oklahoma for crashing the party when they clearly didn't belong. But no. LSU fans are still in a tizzy over USC, even all these years later. And this rivalry has extended to be a Pac-10 vs. SEC brouhaha in general. If you ask an SEC fan, everything that is wrong with college football starts in the Pac-10.

As someone with a fondness for tales of redneck fortitude, I will not quarrel with Dave's pejorative use of that term. I likewise will overlook the supposed certainty of an L.S.U. loss to U.S.C., secure in the knowledge that everyone knew Oklahoma had no chance of beating Florida State, Ohio State had no chance of beating Miami, and Florida had no chance of beating Ohio State, so the inevitability of a Bayou Bengal loss to the Trojans may be added to the list of national championship outcomes everyone recognizes as foreordained that might not have been quite so certain.

With respect to Dave's other item of rhetorical overkill, I don't know what David Lynch has to do with anything, but I enjoy his work.

I would, however, respectfully suggest that Dave needs to be a bit more judicious in his generalities. His characterizations offered animadversions against "all the rednecks down south" and purported to give the answer you would get "[i]f you ask an SEC fan."

Well, I am an S.E.C. fan and I am among all the rednecks down South and, if permitted to get a word in edgewise, I wouldn't mind speaking on my own behalf for the benefit of everyone who chooses to view me as a stereotypical caricature rather than an independent-minded individual.

For the record, I am an S.E.C. homer who bleeds red and black and freely admits his biases. Nevertheless, despite being a lifelong Georgia fan, I have defended U.S.C.'s claim to the 2003 national championship and rooted for the Pac-10 against the S.E.C.'s next-door neighbor, the A.C.C., in the N.C.A.A. women's tennis tournament and in the College World Series. (I drew some criticism for the latter decision, too.)

I am an S.E.C. fan who respects other conferences, so, whenever the (vastly overstated, in my opinion) feud between the Pac-10 and the S.E.C. rears its ugly head, I typically try (though, admittedly, not always successfully) to promote peace and good and brotherhood.

Crystal Blue Persuasion.

It is one thing to conflate Phillip Fulmer's opinions with those of S.E.C. football fans; although I consider that to be a mistake, at least Coach Fulmer's Southeastern Conference roots run deep. Where, though, does anyone get off supposing that Les Miles has the faintest clue about Southern football? For those preferring to withhold judgment until they are familiar with actual facts, here is the file on Les Miles:

Les Miles was raised in Elyria, Ohio. He attended the University of Michigan, winning two varsity letters with the Wolverines in 1974 and 1975 before graduating with a degree in economics in 1976. Coach Miles served as an assistant to his mentor, Bo Schembechler, in 1980 and 1981 before accepting a position on Bill McCartney's staff at Colorado in 1982.

After spending five seasons with the Buffaloes, Coach Miles returned to Ann Arbor for a second stint as a Michigan assistant, remaining with the Maize and Blue through 1994. In 1995, he became the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State and Coach Miles remained in Stillwater until he was offered a job as the tight ends coach of the Dallas Cowboys. He held that post from 1998 to 2000.

In 2001, Coach Miles began what was to be a four-year stint as the head coach at Oklahoma State. Finally, in 2005, he was hired as the head coach at Louisiana State.

For those of you keeping score at home, Les Miles was born and raised in a Big Ten state, played football at and graduated from a Big Ten school, spent a decade coaching in the Big Ten, spent six years coaching in the Big Eight, spent six years coaching in the Big 12, and spent three years coaching in the N.F.L. before acquiring his initial association with the Southeastern Conference two years ago, at the impressionable age of 51 years.

"Do I look 50 to you?"

Les Miles has spent roughly seven and a half per cent of his 27-year coaching career in the employ of a Southeastern Conference institution. Les Miles has spent less than four per cent of his lifespan living in a state which is home to an S.E.C. school. Having spent 100 per cent of my lifetime as a Georgia resident and a Bulldog fan, I feel qualified to state that this humongous-headed carpetbagger is unqualified to speak for me and my kind. For crying out loud, I was operating an S.E.C. football weblog before Les Miles had ever coached a down of Southeastern Conference football.

To be fair, Les Miles is not a representative example of the Big Ten that produced him, either. As MGoBlog's Brian Cook carefully explicates, Coach Miles's behavior would not go over well at his alma mater:

First of all, the guy has a verbal diarrhea that fits in at Michigan about as well as John L Smith controlled his emotions. This very week Miles said a bunch of intemperate things about the Pac 10 on a radio show that stand in marked contrast to Carr's reticence to do anything that could be construed as campaigning during the Michigan-Florida election window last December. A few months ago he [made] the sort of public utterance that would cause the Michigan establishment to get woozy and collapse, Southern Belle style, into Mary Sue Coleman's arms. All it took for Gary Moeller to get fired was one bad night at a restaurant. Les Miles has bad nights twice a year.

Brian says it best: "Miles is, um, unique." Although he played and coached at Michigan, Les Miles lacks the class to be a Michigan man. Although he currently coaches in the S.E.C., Les Miles lacks the class of such league colleagues of his as Mark Richt. Coach Miles's oddities and idiocy ought not to be ascribed to the conference that originally produced him or to the conference that presently employs him, but only to the man himself.

Les, like Shrek, is one of a kind. Also, they both have uncommonly large melons.

To his credit, Dave winds up his retort to Coach Miles by narrowing his criticism and focusing it on its proper target, noting correctly that "Tennessee and Georgia are currently scheduling Pac-10 teams." As an advocate of tougher non-conference scheduling, I am pleased that the Bulldogs have upcoming home-and-home series with Arizona State and Oregon, and that the Red and Black tried to get Oregon State on the schedule.

Les Miles is a moron. We all agree on that. Let us leave it at that. The offer I made last August still stands: I won't give you a reason to believe that I have an East Coast bias if you'll agree not to give me a reason to believe that you have a West Coast bias.

Go 'Dawgs!